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Scots Catholic

Calling Scotland's 841,000 Catholics to unite as one voice


Picture: The Guardian

Anthony Horan reflects on the role of the mainstream media in public life following the Cardinal O'Brien episode

While the private life of former Cardinal Keith O’Brien is played out in the public domain I must confess to being struck by a most concerning by-product of today’s society. In the midst of all the excitement and energy being channelled through keyboards and typewriters across the world of journalism I am becoming increasingly alarmed by the insatiable desire of the media to have the ‘guilty’ of society flogged in the public square.

Keith O’Brien is not the only person to succumb to this type of witch-hunt by the media; far from it. He is but the latest in a long line of people accused, tried and convicted by an increasingly sinister media in today’s UK society.

Whilst Keith O’Brien has admitted sexual misconduct we know no more than that at time of writing. Yet, many people in the media have made up their minds that he is guilty of all sorts of seemingly unlikely behaviour, including gay sex. Indeed one person, admittedly not in the mainstream media, has suggested he is also guilty of child abuse. This kind of comment is promulgated or fuelled by the media who do not hesitate to sensationalise breaking stories in order to make the biggest impact at an early stage. Indeed, Keith O’Brien was said by many sections of the media to be guilty even before he made any admission of guilt. 

There is, however, no point in bogging oneself down with the intricacies of guilt or lack thereof; rather, there is a good story to be had, one which will excite the public and flip many of them into a fit of rage. To simply wait and ascertain the truth of the matter is not exciting enough. It is as if journalists want to predict the outcome so that maybe one day, in the not too distant future, they can turn around and say they were right all along.

It is no defence for a journalist to later claim that he was right to personally find an individual guilty of an offence of which very little was known at the time of their presumption of guilt; even where a court of law has vindicated the presumption. Though he may essentially be correct, it is the process of judgement by the media, with its power to impress such judgement on the public, which is of paramount concern.

Parading pictures of Keith O’Brien with Jimmy Savile undertaking some charity work a number of years ago (as at least two mainstream tabloids did recently) is simply an attempt to tie Keith O’Brien in with the allegations of abuse aimed at Savile since his death. It’s childish, misleading and downright stupid. Such nonsense is not only cruel on those whose reputations are tainted by such wild accusations but it is also cruel on any victims and other people who have been affected by such abuse. It makes an absolute mockery of a horrific crime against innocent, vulnerable people, many of them children. 

The media are there to report on news and express opinion on matters of interest to the public. It is their task to inform the public of issues that are developing across the land. It is not their task nor is it their role to play judge and jury to all who may have committed wrong in their suspecting eyes and seek the haemorrhaging of blood to satiate their immoral desires.

In the case of Keith O’Brien, he may well have apologised to his victims for his behaviour. Indeed, he may even have sought the forgiveness of God; a significant act for one who is Catholic, as it is God who is the ultimate judge and it is He who can sentence an individual to the greatest punishment of all.